It’s not every day that I encounter an editorial that I read and then say to myself, “I wish I’d written that!”
The article below (and Sun letter) appeared in the Toronto media recently, reflecting ideas developed by the Ontario Waste Management Association (OWMA). I’m so enthusiastic about this my head could burst!
As an OWMA email states: “Over the weekend, the Toronto Star ran an editorial (for the second time in a month) that reflects the ideas brought forward in the OWMA’s ReThink Waste Report. It discusses the concerns of the current framework as it relates to competition, eco fees, oversight and standards. The Toronto Sun also ran an OWMA letter to the editor discussing similar issues. Both pieces are included below.
Here’s the link and then the article and letter:
Ontario should toss out recycling rules and start anew: Editorial
Ontario should throw out rules on recycling and start over if politicians really want to help the environment.
Published on Sat Apr 13 2013
Think about this when you are forced to shell out an extra $27.60 for a large-screen TV: Eco fees are bad for the environment.
An oversimplification, perhaps, but the extra fees that corporations charge for the government-mandated recycling of electronics, tires or hazardous waste do little for environmental accountability.
After all, most producers just pass on recycling program costs (roughly $180 million in 2011) to customers who pay the eco fees when buying televisions, computers, tires or even antifreeze. Producers have less incentive to invest in greener products or advanced recycling methods because, hey, they don’t have to. No pain equals less gain.
So now that the Ontario government ? and opposition parties ? favour some changes to eco fees and the Waste Diversion Act, it’s time to offer Environment Minister Jim Bradley advice: Just scrap it.
As the Ontario Waste Management Association’s Rob Cook says, “There’s no point in tinkering with the legislation because it is fundamentally flawed ? the problems are rooted in the philosophy of the act.”
And a rising chorus of voices ? from environmentalists to industry associations ? wants a radical overhaul of the act. They are right to demand a recycling revolution.
To succeed as an environmental change agent, Bradley must enshrine the concept of “individual producer responsibility” in the act. That means each corporation is responsible for its own product recycling by hiring waste companies to take apart televisions or computers for reuse while meeting environmental standards.
This would allow Bradley to dismantle the “industry-funded” recycling organizations led by, for example, Sony, Hewlett-Packard and Best Buy. The companies (many of which are otherwise competitors) get together to set standardized eco-fees that can be charged to customers. It’s collegiality with benefits.
But the problem is greater than that. The government-mandated industry organizations have such a tight grip on the province’s waste diversion industry that recyclers who didn’t win contracts go out of business.
It’s not to say that Stewardship Ontario (batteries, hazardous waste, etc.) or Ontario Electronic Stewardship (computers, televisions) aren’t collecting recyclables. In 2011, 26,135 tonnes of municipal hazardous waste was collected, along with 52,281 of electronics and 155,996 of used tires.
But the agencies have missed government collection targets, sending tonnes of electronics to landfill. And Ontario recyclers have told the government that they’ve tracked electronic materials to unregulated recycling companies in South Asian countries where environmental standards don’t exist.
Jo-Anne St. Godard of the Recycling Council of Ontario says the “individual” focus is better for consumers and the environment. If businesses are forced to pay for their own recycling they’ll do what comes naturally: compete for the best-designed products and cheapest contracts. That’s what happened in Germany when it disbanded a similarly flawed program eight years ago. Last year, the country’s annual recycling costs dropped to 1 billion euros, compared to 2 billion when the program began.
As Godard says, the shift to individual responsibility is “fundamental” to waste diversion. It’s now up to Bradley to show whether Ontario will become an environmental innovator or stick with the messy status quo.
Re “Don’t mess with people’s big screens!” (Christina Blizzard, April 5):
These controversies over Ontario’s recycling eco fees have become commonplace under Ontario’s current recycling framework. Unfortunately, they eclipse the important environmental and economic benefits that come with increased waste diversion. As a recent Ontario study indicates, the economic benefits of recycling and reuse are immense ? roughly seven jobs are created for every thousand tonnes of waste diverted, and the economic benefits of mandated waste diversion programs are four times greater than the net cost to recycle. The Used Tire Program has been successful in increasing the amount of tires recycled, removing stockpiles, and generating jobs and investment in Ontario. However, like Ontario’s other recycling programs, it is a product of broken legislation that stakeholders and the four political parties all agree needs to change. At the root of the problem are purchasing monopolies, which lack transparency, accountability and restrict competition and innovation. Eco fees are a symptom of these monopolies. The minister of the environment recently announced new waste diversion legislation is forthcoming. This legislation cannot come soon enough so we can move beyond hobbling from crisis to crisis and build a regulatory framework around recycling that actually works. New legislation must address the current issues of transparency, accountability, competition and increase waste diversion. If done right it represents an enormous economic and environmental opportunity for the province.
Director of Policy
Ontario Waste Management Association